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Ralph regulars can’t stand fans who won’t sit down

Sit, stand. Sit, stand. Sit, stand.

That seems to be the routine for thousands of Buffalo Bills fans at every home game: Having to stand up for much, or all, of a three-hour-plus football game. Or, bouncing up and down some 30 to 40 times a game, just to see the action on the field.

The problem is that once even a few fans stand, virtually everyone behind them has to do the same.

And some fans aren’t happy about it.

Steve Marsh of Depew, a Bills season-ticket holder since 1992, felt strongly enough to write a letter to The Buffalo News about his experiences sitting in the lower bowl, near the 20-yard line.

“I don’t like standing for the entire game,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s like the whole section stands. I can see standing for big plays, or when it’s third (down) and short, or it’s in the red zone. But now it seems like it’s for almost the whole game. For the New England game, we stood for the entire game.”

Steve Cohen, a Niagara Falls, Ont., steel executive whose family has had season tickets going back to 1960, said he’s “100 percent” noticed a big increase in fans standing up over the last two or three years.

“When the excitement of the game justifies people standing up, I’m good with it,” he said. “It’s the lone wolf, the one guy standing up, that ticks me off. I get exercised when people stand up just to stand up.”

Especially when the people in front of them aren’t standing. That’s just rude, Cohen said.

Matt Sabuda, a leading Bills fan advocate, has noticed the same phenomenon. He spends part of his game day in the press box, as a regular commentator for WBFO-FM, but he also sits in his club seats.

“It’s totally different there,” he said of the club level. “No one stands. But you can just look down and see the entire lower bowl standing for the majority of the game.”

Sabuda, co-founder of the former Buffalo Fan Alliance, believes this is a fairly recent trend. He remembers the first time he noticed all the fans standing, during a game against the Cleveland Browns in 2008.

This problem may be largely a generational one, with younger fans enjoying more of the college football-like atmosphere, standing from the opening kickoff to the final gun, while many older fans find that frustrating. It also may break down to seating areas, with standing more acceptable in the end zones. It also may speak to the intensity of the Bills’ passionate fan base, as Sabuda said.

And it’s not just about the inconvenience for fans who would prefer sitting in their seats.

“I think it’s definitely an issue for people who bring children to the games,” Sabuda said. “It’s almost impossible for them.”

Marsh agrees.

“I bring my young nephew to these games, and he can’t see over the people that are constantly standing in front of him,” he wrote.

The standing issue isn’t exactly a red-hot one in the controversy-filled National Football League.

But the Bills have taken notice. They say they’ve been aware of the standing problem for years. Starting with the 2014 season, the Bills eliminated the first two rows of seats in four sections on each side of the field because fans stood up to see over the players.

And they’ve incorporated that concern into their Bills Fan Code of Conduct.

“Excessive standing/behavior detracting from the enjoyment of fellow fans. Spontaneous reactions to plays within the game are expected and encouraged, but your continued standing when other fans are sitting is not permitted. Stand for exciting moments, but sit when others sit during ‘down’ times,” the code states.

“We’re not trying to stop fans from standing and enjoying the game, especially when touchdowns are scored, and great things are happening on the field,” said Andy Major, the team’s vice president of operations and guest experience.

The problem occurs when a handful of fans, even as few as two to four, refuse to sit down at all, he added.

“That’s where we try to have our staff address it,” Major said.

The elephant in the stadium is alcohol. Do drunk fans tend to be more oblivious and inconsiderate of the people sitting near them? But that’s not the only reason some fans may inconvenience others.

“I think there are fans who stand because they’re not courteous, and there are knuckleheads who stand because they’re inebriated,” Major said, when pushed on the issue. “If there’s any behavior that detracts from the enjoyment of other fans, we’re going to take measures to address that.”

The Bills encourage any fans unhappy about other fans standing to seek out a stadium usher or security officer, or to call or text Guest Services to lodge a complaint.

After any complaint, stadium officials can rely on video surveillance to see whether the problem persists. In rare cases, that can lead to a fan being ejected. Major said a few fans are ejected for standing-related incidents, maybe three to five per game.

It’s not clear exactly why the standing issue has become worse the last few years.

Cohen believes many of the offenders aren’t regular season-ticket holders, and some are in Ralph Wilson Stadium to root for the visiting team. And he thinks that the secondary-ticket market, including StubHub and the NFL Ticket Exchange, makes a huge difference, with season-ticket holders selling to one-time users.

“These aren’t regular season-ticket holders, and they don’t know the regular protocol,” Cohen said.

Some people unhappy with having to stand up most of the game usually get little sympathy – and often some rude replies – when they ask someone in front of them to sit down.

“When I complain to fans that are standing in front of me, I’m told that if I want to sit to stay home and sit on my couch,” Marsh wrote in his letter. “I love going to the games and pay good money for a seat that I can’t sit in if I want to see the game.”

Marsh appreciated the Bills’ response to his concern. The day after his letter appeared in The News, his season-ticket account manager called him, expressing her concern and encouraging him to contact an usher or security officer.

But there’s no easy solution.

“Can something be done?” Marsh wrote. “I can’t stand for this too much longer.”